Do you work with or even manage people who are older and more experienced than you? If you’re struggling with these relationships, here are some ways to get along with your colleagues.
My first day as a project engineer started in the office, but that’s not where all the work happened. My job was to organize, budget and plan while working in a cushy office building. These plans were put into action nowhere near an office, by people I would never meet.
I was introduced over the phone to my new talented, experienced, and (much) older coworker. I had no experience with his type of hands-on work, but I was eager to learn. Over the speakerphone I heard: “A girl. Huh.”
The gruff voice on the other end of the phone didn’t sound impressed. I kept quiet and wondered what I had gotten myself into.
How to prepare yourself for managing older colleagues
I didn’t get any training in workplace relationships before I was thrown into my job, and neither will you. On your first day you could be in charge of a group of people with skills you can’t pronounce, decades of experience and attitudes that makes you the enemy.
New graduates and 20-year veteran workers aren’t exactly known for getting along. If you work together you have to prove you’re worth working with. But fear not: you can get them to actually want to work with you.
Why put your time and effort into this difficult relationship? The simple answer is you want — and need — your older coworkers to enjoy working with you. When they don’t, they can make your life miserable. Your deadlines won’t mean anything, your requests will go unanswered and working with them will become the biggest headache you will ever have.
To succeed at your career, you need to earn the respect of your older coworkers by learning how not to piss them off. Win them over and they’ll go the extra mile when you need them most. Once I figured this out, my job got easier, and talking with older employees became the best part of my job.
Here are seven reasons the older workers hate you already and how you can change their minds: (Click here to tweet this list.)
1. You represent everything wrong with management
Unfortunately, you’re the embodiment of every rule that stands in their way, every requirement that needlessly takes up their time, and everything that annoys them about the company. Do whatever you can to make their job easy: prepare forms, copy them on emails, ask for their advice — and when they say they need something, follow through. With this kind of attitude on your end, they’ll know you’re in this together.
2. You don’t swear
Your older coworkers have camaraderie and institutional knowledge that can be intimidating. As a result, they might be very comfortable around one another. They probably think twice before speaking freely in front of you. Drop a few F-bombs while bitching about something lightheartedly, like what happened on the weekend; they’ll relax when they realize you’re not a stiff.
3. You take things too seriously
If you keep your cool when you get a call with bad news, workplace veterans will be more willing to help. When something goes wrong (and it will), have a laugh. Sometimes the dumb luck that stops production for two days actually is pretty funny.
Make it clear that you’ll do whatever you can to help out, and that you realize that whatever happened is not the end of the world. When your coworkers aren’t afraid to talk to you, they’ll tell you what you need to know.
4. You don’t keep your promises
When you say you’re going to do something for them, do it. Older workers constantly hear promises on the other end of the phone made by people like you who never deliver. If they can count on you, they’re going to do their best for you.
5. You don’t treat them like people
Just because your older coworkers don’t understand Twitter doesn’t mean they aren’t people. When you’re talking to them, be friendly: ask how their weekend was and try to remember their kids’ names. You work with them, but make sure it’s not all work. Everyone appreciates being treated well.
6. You don’t give them enough credit
Older workers may not have as many degrees or diplomas as you do, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t smart. Working your way up isn’t easy. Tt took years for them to get as good as they are at what they do, so don’t be afraid to ask your workplace veterans their opinion or expertise. They already know you’re smart because you got hired, but they’ll really like you if you know you appreciate their contributions.
7. You talk like a kid
Despite the fact that you might be about the same age as your colleagues’ kids — or even grandkids (eek!) — you’re different because you work with them. You want them to respect you and take you seriously. Watch the way you talk! The more times you use the word “like” in conversation, the less they’ll think of you as an adult. If you find yourself saying “like” or “um” often, slow down when you talk.
Getting them to love working with you is a worthwhile skill: it makes your job easier, makes their work go smoother and establishes your reputation as a competent employee.
How can you connect with the industry veterans in your office?
Heather Sinclair is an engineer and project manager with nearly 10 years experience. She is a co-founder of The Travel Type where she encourages professionals to find fulfillment through travel.